VIU Student Press

What’s the number for 9-1-1?

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By Production Manager Catherine Charlebois

Cops, in general, don’t have it easy; responding to bizarre calls and having to deal with the most disruptive layer of society isn’t for the faint of heart. Having grown up with cops as family friends, and living in the heart of downtown Nanaimo, I can only imagine what emergency services have to go through on a daily basis.

Which is why I don’t understand how absurdly long it can take to contact them. I’ve had to make a 9-1-1 call a few times, and I can tell it’s not getting any speedier.

On one occasion, I had to call while trying to fend someone off, and talk to the dispatcher as she jotted down all my information. In another, I was safely in the confines of my home while someone, who was highly intoxicated, tried to enter. In any tense situation, the last thing anyone has the time for is recalling what type of clothes someone is wearing, or spelling out their own last name.

While I understand the high importance and duality of the situation, dispatching services have been reduced in such a way that it now takes even longer to go through all the steps. According to a 2015 report evaluating future 9-1-1 coverage in the area by the Central Island 9-1-1 Partnership, comprising the City of Nanaimo, the Regional District, and the Cowichan Valley Regional District, “the Nanaimo Detachment and Courtenay Operational Communication Centre options are not economically viable”. Now, dispatch centres that receive calls have been amalgamated into one location in Courtenay, and cover larger land masses—and this isn’t an Island thing, the Mainland experienced this too. Before you even get to information giving, you have the additional step of being transferred to the appropriate “Nanaimo” dispatcher (found within the same Courtenay building) due to cutbacks.

Luckily for us, cellphones from 2010 or newer give out approximate GPS locations, though 9-1-1 dispatchers still ask for addresses—which is fair enough. Despite knowing that all this is done to ensure the safety of officers and for accurate record keeping, there has to be a better way of ensuring quicker response times—spending five minutes on the phone while someone is quickly becoming closer to endangering themselves and others, just isn’t feasible. Shouldn’t there be better funding for this? Why are emergency services, one of the cornerstones of public safety, experiencing cutbacks?

And while I’m thankful my personal situations haven’t been particularly life threatening, it doesn’t seem right that it took around 15 minutes for anyone to show up, while someone who had “overdosed on fentanyl a couple of days ago” was outside my door. Oh, and don’t forget, since 9-1-1 works with a cell phone company, you can be charged not one, but two fees—47 cents for every phone line in the central Island region and a Telus ‘access fee’, found conveniently on your monthly phone bill.


A sassy French Canadian with a penchant for puns and coffee, Catherine is The Nav’s Production Manager. Living out of her planner, she is always looking for ways to streamline the paper’s production. You can find her writing in The Nav and also at frozenconstellations.wordpress.com